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Harvey H. Watanabe

Newlyweds Edith and Harvey, Ft. Hayes, Columbus, Ohio, 1942

A native of Tulare County, California, Watanabe was the first of six children born to Masugoro and Hide Watanabe, immigrants from Kanagawa Prefecture, during the dreaded flu epidemic of 1918-1919. His parents worked as a team supplying workers -- mostly itinerant Issei affectionately called "blanke katsugi" (blanket toters) -- to area farms. Watanabe had spent the spring and summer of 1928 visiting Japan with his Issei cousin, and his command of Japanese was better than average. His first experience at interpreting occurred when he was pressed into duty at age 13 to serve as unofficial interpreter for Issei applying for driver's licenses.

Drafted in February 1941, he was sent to Fort Lewis, Washington, where he was assigned to an activated National Guard Unit -- the Anti-Tank Company of the 163rd Infantry Regiment of the 41st Division, which consisted of a wonderful nucleus of guardsmen from Montana filled in with draftees from all over the nation. Two days after the attack on Pearl Harbor, in nearby Burlington, he met an Issei lady who invited him to her home where he met his wife-to-be, a marriage which is still going strong after nearly 52 years.

In March 1942, Nisei in Pacific Northwest Army units were rounded up at Fort Lewis, and were distributed to military posts in the Midwest, the South, and in North Central states. There about 350-400 who boarded the train at Fort Lewis and were loaded alphabetically from the front car to the rear car, where Watanabe, Yamaguchi, Yokoyama, Yagura, Yoshioka, Yamamoto, etc., were dispatched to Fort Hayes, Columbus, Ohio. At Fort Hayes, at his request a Colonel Young and his staff wrote letters seeking the release of his fiancee, Edith Takagi, from the Tule Lake Relocation Center. They were married in August 1942 by the post chaplain with Mits Yagura and Tom Yokoyama as witnesses. In December 1942, Watanabe received orders to report to Camp Savage, Minnesota, and Edith joined him just in time for the holidays. They celebrated Christmas with $3.92 in their collective treasury plus a paid-up room in a Minneapolis hotel. They feasted on a bag of nickel White Castle hamburgers.

After graduation in June 1943 from MISL and before going overseas, the couple took a long train trip to visit his family at the Poston Relocation Center, Arizona, where other GIs on duty escorted them into camp. They then took a long and illegal trip to Los Angeles and to Portland, Oregon without incident, in order to connect with a train to Boise, Idaho, and then to Emmett, Idaho, where Edith's parents had been released from Tule Lake to operate a hospital laundry.

Watanabe's overseas assignment turned out to be the Allied Translator and Interpreter Section, in General MacArthur's Headquarters, Brisbane, Australia, where his unit was situated in a suburb called Indooroopili. After the war ended, he participated in operations in Luzon to arrange the surrender of Japanese troops and then in the Occupation, as discussed in his presentation..

Nearly five years after the war, he received a jarring telegram ordering him to leave his newborn son, four-year old daughter, and his wife to report for duty because of the Korean Conflict (War). The notice arrived a few days before Christmas 1950, and the Army generously gave him a 90-day extension. He served from March 1951 through April 1952.

After attending the Minnesota School of Business on the GI Bill, Watanabe made a career first with the Boeing Company and then in auto sales and leasing, retiring in 1985. He has been active in MIS Northwest, the Nisei Veterans Committee, the Japanese American Citizens League, numerous school district study committees and several Seattle City committees. A golfer, he and his wife are blessed with 10 grandchildren, seven step grandchildren, and four great grandchildren.